Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We don’t want remote learning to be a place where people hide,” Brewer Superintendent Gregg Palmer said of the possibility of allowing students to continue attending school remotely beyond this year. “If anyone’s going remote, we want it to be because there are significant reasons why that’s the healthiest place for them today.”
What we’re watching today
It was a landmark pandemic Thursday as the federal government relaxed mask recommendations, but Maine and many other states are waiting to mirror them. Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday that Maine would end indoor capacity limits on May 24, sooner than the state previously indicated. But it was overshadowed by nearly simultaneous news that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its recommendations to say mask-wearing is no longer necessary for fully vaccinated people in most settings.
Maine is leaving its mask mandate in place for now, Mills said Thursday, adding that she would have to review the updated federal guidance. Mills lifted the state’s outdoor mask mandate in late April, but masks are still required indoors regardless of vaccination status. While the Democratic governor has typically adhered to federal recommendations, there is no clear timeframe for a change.
A handful of states were quick to adjust their mask policies following the CDC announcement, with Connecticut saying fully vaccinated people would no longer be required to wear masks while Minnesota lifted its mandate entirely. But others, such as Massachusetts, took a similar line to Maine, saying they would leave mandates in place at least in the short term. Another 14 states, including New Hampshire, lifted mask mandates before the announcement and 11 had no mandate at all, according to the AARP.
One concern expressed by governors including Mills is how states could let fully vaccinated people go maskless while mandating that the unvaccinated wear masks. Public health experts have retorted that it is not the vaccinated, but the unvaccinated people who need protection. Maine and other states have not pursued vaccine passports, meaning the two-tiered approach would likely be an honors system. There is also the question of what the change would mean for children, especially those under age 12 who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The private sector will also have a lot to say about mask rules once states adhere to the federal guidelines, with businesses making choices about whether to mandate masks on an individual basis. A good number of restaurants in Maine, for example, have not even returned to dine-in service nearly a year after they were allowed to. Many may be cautious in the early going.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine Legislature teases State House return after pandemic restrictions relax,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The seat of Maine’s government has been largely closed and session has not been held there since March after the pandemic arrived in Maine. Certain people, including the media, staff, lawmakers and contractors are allowed in the building, but members of the public are not unless they are guests of the governor’s office or lawmakers.”
Lawmakers have a lot of work to do. While about 65 percent of the 1,700 bills submitted this year have been voted out of committee, only 12 percent have received a final vote, according to the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis. There is hope that work will still be able to conclude by June 16, the original adjournment. Leaders set a May 21 deadline for bills to be voted out of committees.
— “Conservation groups say Kennebec dams’ owner is violating endangered species law,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “It is an extension of a conflict that involved Gov. Janet Mills, whose administration sided with conservationists in an effort to impose stricter fish passage requirements on Brookfield Renewable in a move that could have led to the dams’ removal. But Brookfield sued the state over the rules and the Maine Department of Marine Resources dropped the plan in April, admitting it had no authority to make the changes under state law.”
— “CMP can clear remote corridor stretch after federal judge’s ruling,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Even though the injunction has been lifted, there are some conditions in the Army Corps permit that limit construction scheduling in the 53-mile section of the corridor, which is not alongside existing power lines like the remainder of the project.” Here’s your soundtrack.
The corridor also picked up an endorsement Thursday from the Maine AFL-CIO. In a release, the labor organization’s president, Cynthia Phinney, said the transmission line would “put several hundred Maine union members to work building the electrical infrastructure we need for a clean energy future.”
Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter misspelled Brewer Superintendent Gregg Palmer’s first name.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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